Rural offices 'could boost hybrid working'

The chief executive of the world's largest provider of serviced office space believes hybrid working - where employees work partly at home and partly in an office - will become the global norm even when the Covid-19 pandemic has passed.

Woman with laptop working in an outdoor setting
Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG, said that, as a result of the pandemic, the office space market in 2020 had undergone "a decade of evolution in just 12 months" as employees suddenly found themselves obliged to work from home.As a result, IWG suffered an adjusted operating loss of £173.8 million last year, compared to a profit of £136.8 million in 2019.

A rise in hybrid working solutions

But Mr Dixon said the company is now seeing a rise in firms looking for hybrid working solutions, including a recent deal struck with Japanese telecoms group NTT to give its 300,000 employees around the world access to IWG's office network."We anticipate a massive surge in growth (in hybrid working) when we eventually emerge from the unprecedented downturn that the Covid-19 pandemic has created," he said.

IWG to open centres in Cornwall, South Wales, and the Hebridies

And Mr Dixon revealed that he was looking at opening centres in rural parts of the UK, such as Cornwall, South Wales and the Hebrides, to cater for workers who have chosen to move from cities and work remotely because of the coronavirus outbreak."People are moving to nice places to live because they know they can work from there. They think that there's a future of not having to go to the office every day," he said.He warned that companies that failed to adapt to flexible working practices would find it harder to hire the talents they really needed."The most popular workplaces, the most valuable buildings, won't just be in central London," said Mr Dixon. "All the commuter towns will become less dormitory towns and more vibrant places of business. For companies, it's cheaper and it helps them on the environment."It's probably about a third to a half of the working population that will start to work in different ways and commuting is the thing that there will be less of. That's the thing that changes most of all."

BP, HSBC and Lloyd's Bank: no plans for workers to return to work full-time in offices, even post Covid-19 restrictions

Already, many major companies have announced that workers will not return to work full-time in offices, even when Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted. BP this week told 25,000 office-based staff around the world that they should expect to work from home for two days a week, while both HSBC and Lloyds Bank have announced plans to slash office space.Fernando Castanheira, chief information at enterprise software company Aternity, which is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that companies large and small were telling him that, in future, hybrid working would be the order of the day."Offices will be transformed into more collaborative and flexible spaces while the digital employee experience becomes essential," he said. "But this won't be a case of 'one size fits all' - it will vary and evolve as time goes by."The forced shift to remote work led to a drastic acceleration of cloud adoption over the past 12 months, which in some ways makes it easier for IT teams to manage a workforce that will soon have much more flexibility in terms of where they work."

New ways of working - an office is no longer a "must have"

Sion Lewis, EMEA vice-president at LogMeIn, a software provider of remote work tools, agreed that the pandemic had caused a "complete shift" in attitudes towards working habits.“We’ve seen companies across every industry come out with new ways of working over the past year, which range from abandoning the office altogether to embracing novel concepts like the 15-minute city," he said."Video conferencing has been a lifeline for many of us over the past year and its benefits extend far beyond continuity, touching upon issues of diversity and inclusion, culture and work/life balance.“The office works great as a hub for the occasional team meeting, but if we’ve learnt anything from the pandemic it’s that it is by no means a 'must have'.“None of us knows precisely what the future of work holds, but the reality is a sizeable part of the workforce will continue working flexibly. Businesses must recognise the need to support a long-term hybrid model.”

Visit our Coronavirus Resource Centre for more articles on remote working, and managing your health and productivity during the pandemic

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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